The rain-drenched wetlands of England abound, as it rains – a lot – in these parts of the world. So what is a wetland? You’ve likely heard of wetlands, marshes, reedbeds, fens and bogs. But what are they, and why do they matter? And how can we protect them? And of course – where are they?! Read On The Marsh, a story of one writer’s move to a home in the wetlands of Eastern England.
Wetlands is the name given to marshy land across the world. Just as we need rainforests for oxygen, we need wetlands for water, and they are home to millions of wildlife the world over (one species you are likely familiar with are flamingos, who do their beautiful dances in the wetlands of Latin America). But although a wetland can be thousands of miles wide and long, the little bog garden is also a wetland in miniature. and likely home to many species. Despite covering less than 1% of the land on earth, 40% of all our species rely on wetlands to survive.
Wetlands not only provide life but peat wetlands store more carbon in the soil, than rainforests (a third, despite only taking up around 3% of our earth). They also help to filter our drinking water and protect from floods. Many native medicines also come from here. Over a third of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1970 (just 50 years). Read The Little Book of Wetland Birds, to meet some of the creatures that live on our wetlands, and need them to survive.
So what is peat? It’s a rich black organic matter, which forms when there is so much rain that vegetation can’t even break down. It grows very slowly, but forms a ‘carbon sink’ that is also home to much endangered wildlife. It also then acts like a sponge to soak up rain (along with mist and melted snow), then ‘gives it back’ to the earth in the form of rivers, and also helps to reduce floods, after big downpours, like with thunderstorms.
- Estuaries are caused when freshwater and seawater meet. Saltmarshes often occur here, where waterfowl and winter wading birds live.
- Blanket bogs look quite barren, but form vital land for wading and diving birds. Often found in the wettest parts of England, the use of peat (and grouse-shooting) is destroying bogs, and contributing to flooding problems. Due to our rain, 20% of all blanket bog is found in Britain and Ireland. Raised bogs are more found on agricultural land, but modern farming has endangered it.
- Reedbeds are easy to spot, as they contain reeds! These fast-growing plants thrive in clean water and support homes for wildlife, especially bitterns that like to pop by to eat the local fish. Drier areas are adored by otters and water voles. Swallows, martins and cranes like it here. Conservationists are busy reversing damage from polluted reedbeds.
- Fens are areas rich with wetland wildlife, and many are on managed sites, where organic farmers grow most of the food found in your organic box. Situated in areas of poor drainage (like the East Coast: Norfolk, Suffolk Cambridgeshire), read The Fens: Discovering England’s Ancient Depths which explores an area punctuated by soaring church spires and marshy mysterious fens. Formed by marine and freshwater flooding, this fertile soil is explored by an archaeologist.
- Upland springs are found where rain and groundwater moves over peat and mineral soils. Again, the loss of peat is the main problem, as this harms both the water and the wildlife. You’ll find many rare flora and fauna here, and the area is also loved by many native birds. Providing food for many upland birds, you can also find alpine plants, obviously these are mostly found in northern England and Scotland.
How to Protect Our Wetlands
- Don’t go grouse-shooting (presumably if you’re on this site, you don’t). Flattening the land for grouse shoots is destroying peat bogs and contributing to floods (other creatures are also killed).
- Support your local organic box scheme. Like anything, if you don’t use it, you lose it. And since a lot of organic box schemes use produce from low-lying marshland, supporting them means less chance of someone coming in and buying up the land, then building on it.
- See how to build a garden pond, for tips on what to do, if considering building ponds. Includes tips to keep pets/wildlife safe.
Make your own compost or buy peat-free compost, Keep fresh compost away from pets, as it contains mould (also keep cocoa/pine/rubber mulch away from pets). Garden organically if you grow your own food, herbs or flowers. See make your garden safe for pets (to know plants to avoid) and use humane nontoxic slug/snail deterrents & no-dig gardening.